|The "classic" after school math homework scenario...|
A math student is stuck on a homework problem, which is part of an assignment due tomorrow. This student could be you, your child, your brother or sister, or anyone studying math. What can the stuck student do?
Frustration and discouragement set in rather quickly. Maybe you'll take a break, watch some TV, go outside, get a snack, or go surf around on the internet. But soon it's late in the night and you still can't figure out your math homework. What are you going to do?
- Ask mom or dad for help. But they're working late, will come home tired, and most likely have forgotten the math they haven't studied since high school or college.
- Ask an older brother or sister for help. But they have their own schedules and other things to do.
- Ask a friend for help. Admitting you don't understand your homework is sometimes hard to do. Perhaps your friends are no better at math than you are.
- Get a math tutor. Private tutors are very expensive, and usually appointments must be made. This assignment is due tomorrow, and you need help now, not "next Thursday, between 2:30 and 3:30 at the local library."
- Try to figure it out yourself. But you have been trying! You've read over the examples and explanations in the book several times, and it just doesn't help. Your class notes don't help much either.
- Don't do the assignment. NO! You want to do it! You are sitting down trying to study, and using your free time to work on homework. You want to be a good student, but you just can figure out how to do the homework [hey, it happens!]
|Getting math help over the internet. Now.|
The internet is an exciting place, filled with information. We put ourselves in the shoes of a frustrated student, and tried to find help on a 10th grade Algebra problem. We used the most popular internet search engines, and here's what type of math help sites we were able to come up with:
That's it! In other words, we didn't find any immediate help with the exact problem on which we are working. The motivation that spawned the idea for Webmath was the passing of knowledge using the accessibility and immediacy of the internet. Wouldn't it be nice if a frustrated student could
- A question and answer math data base. A site like this is a catalog of math questions asked by other students, answered by one or more math experts or tutors, and are then, in turn, posted online in an organized question/answer for the benefit of all. Some sites like this have grown quite large and inclusive, containing questions and answers from many branches of mathematics. Typically there is a very reasonable one to two day turnaround on answers to questions posted.
- A site that is able to solve one or two particular problems. In these cases, the site is the result of the authors first experiment at internet programming, and is their first CGI script or Java applet. Most of them are very nice and quite original, but somewhat limited in what types of problems they solve.. We found sites like this that might give the factors of a polynomial, solve an equation, or graph a sine-wave, exploiting the most up-to-date internet technologies.
- A math tutorial site. These sites are almost like taking an online test. They have a database of questions and possible answers, usually in a multiple choice , that the student may select, and even be graded on. Many hints, and multimedia clues may be included along the way.
- Specific math sites. The internet search engines typically also find sites pertaining to a particular math class, at a particular school, like Math 152 at Anywhere State College.
- Math reference site. Sites like this contain many math definitions and outline fundamental relationships upon with mathematics is build. They read very much like math tables or a "math dictionary." Some are very inclusive and very well organized.
- Connect to the internet from their home,
- type in the problem they are having trouble with,
- instantly receive hints or even a solution to their problem,
- log off, then continue on with their homework with a "push" in the right direction, if not the answer they're looking for?
The paragraph above describes the apparent void Webmath tries to fill:to give a student immediate help over the internet with the particular math problem they are on.Webmath is not a database of questions and answers, or an online math testing site. Webmath is a math-help web site that generates answers to specific math questions, as entered by a user of the site, at any particular moment. In fact, currently, Webmath is of little use unless a particular math problem to solve is typed into it.
The math answers are generated and produced real-time, at the moment a web user types in their math problem and clicks "solve." In addition to the answers, Webmath also attempts to show to the student how to arrive at the answer as well. For example, if the user wants to know how to square the quantity (x+2), Webmath does not just display the answer x2+4x+4, but a step-by-step solution as well.
Behind the scenes, Webmath does not contain link after link of static web-pages containing information on mathematics. It contains a sophisticated computer math "engine" that is actually able to recognize and "do the math" on a particular problem it is presented with. For this reason, Webmath is a very dynamic website, in that most of the replies a user will encounter are created the instant they are sent to the user.
We acknowledge though, that programming a computer to solve math problems "on the fly" is not an easy task, and Webmath is not a a complete math solution system. Many computer methods and algorithms related to having a computer solve a math problem remain research-level topics at computer science labs around the world. This difficulty in computer math programming remains at the heart of the limited offerings of this site, and shortcomings therein. Nevertheless, the developmental goal of this site is to slowly and steadily increase and improve upon its math solving capabilities, so frustrated students have a place to at least try to find the answer to their math problem, at the time they need it.